When I visit a horse to assess its performance or lameness, it is common for me to hear a few coughs when it begins movement. Generally, the owner will notice that the horse does this often, but only at the beginning of the ride, and will not consider it a problem. However, a horse with a healthy respiratory tract should never cough. So although it is rare, if a horse coughs, it is important to do further investigation.
Stephanie Davis DVM, Vet.
If a horse has a cough that is not associated with additional indicators of disease (fever, profuse nasal discharge, abnormal biochemical values, and inappetence), the presumptive diagnosis would be inflammatory airway disease (IAD). IAD is typically diagnosed by clinical signs (coughing and poor performance) and endoscopy showing inflammation (spillage detected in the trachea or nasopharynx and lymphoid hyperplasia). Lymphoid Hyperplasia is the technical term for those “bumps” that can be seen in the upper airway, indicators of inflammation of lymphatic tissue, which is responsible for the production of white blood cells and antibodies. Basically, that tissue is activated by inflammation, so just taking a simple look with upper airway endoscopy will give you more information about the health of the horse’s airway.
“If your horse has a cough, he probably has some degree of IAD, and the most effective way to reduce symptoms and medication use is to purify the hay by steam.”
We now understand that although the cough seems benign, there may be an active inflammatory process going on. What to do? The first factor to consider is the environment in which your horse lives. How often is it put in paddock? Is the stable ventilated enough? How dusty is the litter box? How do you provide hay?
The first three questions have simple answers. If the horse is paddocked more often, it will have less inflammation in the respiratory tract, as there is typically less respiratory trauma outside. It seems obvious, but it is important to remember that the boxes in which they are kept need good air exchange and ventilation. Dusty bedding will only contribute to further inflammation of the respiratory tract. It is good practice to talk to your supplier to find the best low-dust bedding. Once all these factors have been considered, we turn to the question of hay.
“No matter the quality of the hay, it will be full of allergens, mold spores, dust and particulate matter, which can activate and irritate the respiratory tract.”
Hay is usually the most influential hazard in creating airway inflammation. Horses do not breathe through their mouths, and they spend hours a day with their noses buried in hay. As we have discussed in the past, no matter the quality of the hay, it will still be full of allergens, mold spores, dust and particulate matter that can activate and irritate the airways. In the past, soaking hay was recommended, essentially to “stick” the dust and allergens to the hay itself, paradoxically facilitating ingestion and inhalation.
Soaking hay can be useful, but purification by steam is superior for several reasons. Purification kills mold spores and bacteria that will not stick to the plant, preventing dangerous inhalation caused by soaking.
“Steamed hay not only has the lowest risk, but is the only method to significantly reduce the risk of IAD.”
A study presented at theAmerican College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) in June 2016 found that Haygain-Steamed hay reduced the factors responsible for inflammatory airway disease (IAD) in horses by as much as two-thirds. In addition, the study found that after analyzing all forage options (dry hay, soaked hay, hay-silo or Steamed hay with Haygain) Steamed hay not only had the lowest risk, but was the only method that significantly reduced the risk of IAD. So if your horse has a cough, he probably has some degree of IAD, and the most effective way to reduce symptoms and the need for medication is to purify the hay by steam.
How can Haygain help?
Haygain improves equine health through research and innovation in respiratory and digestive health. Developed by horsemen, for horsemen, Haygain understands the importance of clean forage to maintain the horse’s overall well-being. Haygain hay Steamers and ComfortStall flooring are recommended by many of the world’s leading equine riders, trainers and veterinarians.